Lake Whatcom Reconveyance Postponed

By Wendy HarrisOn Sep 12, 2012

Last night I attended the public hearing for the Lake Whatcom Reconveyance. The purpose of the Reconveyance is to restore 8,700 acres, or 25% of the watershed, to old growth forest to protect the Lake’s water quality. The majority of this land is classified by the County as critical areas, and is inappropriate for timber harvest due to steep slopes. The reconveyed land would become a public park under management of the County Parks Department, allowing opportunity for recreational activities compatible with water quality protection.

I expected a pro forma hearing to formalize the prior actions of County Council, who: 1) funded the almost $300,000 in preliminary deed and title work necessary for the reconveyance, 2) confirmed their support for the reconveyance in a formal letter to the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and 3) listened to overwhelming support from their constituents, who reflected a wide range of interests, during this 5 or 6 year process.

Instead, the efforts of the Tea Party, CAPR and BIA to quickly mobilize 11th hour opposition to the Reconveyance resulted in, surprisingly, a four hour love fest for DNR. In fact, the opposition had so much love to share that enough was left over for the Washington Department of Ecology and even the Growth Management Act. Who knew that members of the Tea Party, CAPR and BIA were such fans of state government? Yet consistently last night, the opposition argued for the merits of leaving 8,700 acres of largely unusable forested watershed land under state rather than local control.

The opposition bolstered their position with evidence that Conservation Northwest, and the Whatcom Land Trust, the organizations that worked hard to make the reconveyance possible, communicated with the County Parks Director, (who himself was disclosed as a closeted park lover) in their efforts to facilitate transfer of land from the DNR to the County. Moreover, after 5 or 6 years of communications, there were a lot of emails.

Whatcom Land Trust secured a funding source to replace the Mt. Baker’s school district’s lost timber revenues, which had been an obstacle to moving forward with the Reconveyance. Or as our Tea Party/CAPR friends explained, they gave money to the school district to buy support for the reconveyance. Clearly, this was blatant bribery. (Not to worry. Our Tea Party/CAPR friends are attempting to get the scoundrel who voted to accept the bribe money thrown off the school board.)

The significance of these events was not lost on astute Council Member Bill Knutzen, who posed a hypothetical question to Council members. What if members of the development community had special access to County staff that the public did not know about? Gosh, thank goodness this has not happened! We need to nip this thing in the bud. Is there a state agency that we could transfer the entirety of County operations to in an effort to prevent….uhmm, people from doing public interest stuff by coordinating with appropriate staff members, subject to County Council discussion and vote?

Concern for “public process” needs to extend to the members of the public who participated and provided input over a period of years, and were led to believe that the County Council was moving forward with the Reconveyance. Yet, not once was this even mentioned. Nor was the $300,000 dollars that should never have been authorized if the Reconveyance is not moving forward.

Once Council Members Crawford and Kershner, who both campaigned on a platform supporting improved Lake Whatcom water quality, saw political support for reneging on their prior commitment of support, they jumped at the bait, ignoring the irrational and uninformed basis of the 11th hour newly mobilized opposition. (Council Members Brenner and Knutzen have always opposed the Reconveyance.)

The biggest problem that Lake Whatcom faces is not land use policies that promote greater watershed development, or forest practices that fail to comply with the standards of the Clean Water Act. It is a Council majority that refuses to accept the reality of land use impacts, even in the face of abundant scientific evidence. The most important act of voluntary watershed stewardship that the public could adopt is ensuring that a new Council majority is elected who are willing to seize every opportunity to protect water and air quality, natural resources and critical areas.

About Wendy Harris

Past Writers • Member since Mar 31, 2008

Comments by Readers


Sep 14, 2012

It’s ironic, after so many years arguing with opponents of growth management, to listen to park proponents commit the same error.  Developers usually seized on the GMA goal to plan for growth, and ignored the fact this was just one of numerous and often contradictory goals, and needed to be understood in a way consistent with the Act’s declared purpose.

Those diverse goals (planning for growth, creating parks, etc.) are of secondary concern and subordinate to the Act’s purpose: Preserving rural character and protecting resource lands in order to sustain the industries that rely on them.

In headlong pursuit of the largely illusory promise of protecting Bellingham’s drinking water by banning forestry in the strictly regulated commercial forest around the lake, would be environmentalists are weakening the protection now afforded by the ban on development, including parks, contained in CF zoning.

It is unlikely the effort will survive legal review.  But it is sad to witness probably well intentioned individuals abuse the Act with the same expediency normally favored by their usual opponents.


John Lesow

Sep 17, 2012

How many that testified last week were familiar with the business end of an ax?  Where were the real spokesmen for the timber industry that our politicians purport to support?  Just how much of a wage base will be eroded by removal of 25% of 8800 acres from the Lake Whatcom Watershed?  Will a commitment to the renewal of old-growth forest be in the best long term interests of water quality?  Better than continued clear-cutting?

There should be an accounting of the costs and benefits of the Reconveyance.  But that information has been sadly lacking in the public process over the past five years that the Reconveyance has been under active consideration, drowned by rhetoric about water quality on one side and bumptious theorizing about “jobs” that few testifiers and Councilmembers, former and current, have any hands-on experience in creating.

Yes, the DNR was deified, even by the property rights cabal that generally disparages state bureaucracies.  Just how successful has the DNR been in regulating forest practices in the Watershed?  Where is the measure of the success of their stewardship when compared to the continuing degradation of the City’s water supply?

DNR is in the business of promoting clear cutting on public land.  Just like the Washington State Gambling Commission is in the business of promoting Safe Gambling in drinking establishments.  I have crossed swords with the latter on two occasions;  once with their whitewashing of the theft of gambling monies from a local bingo operation and another with their tacit support of the abominable Nooksack Casino in Lynden. 

Government bureaucracies are, first and foremost, dedicated to the perpetuation of their existence and the approbation of their public charge.  The true interests of the public are secondary.  The promise of public money trumps clean living and it trumps clean water.  You can bet your chainsaw that the DNR will continue to be supported and coddled by timber interests, even when both make mistakes that run afoul of the public’s interest.

Speaking of love fests, it is a source of great personal satisfaction that the Whatcom County Planning Commission is also becoming deified after years of vilification by the property rights crowd.  Why was the Reconveyance not reviewed by the Commission five years ago?  I suggest it is because the former Planning Commission would have green-lighted the Reconveyance after extensive hearings and review, while there is not a snowball’s chance in Hell that the current Reconveyance will receive the Commission’s approval.

In short, politics.  And it was politics that was on full display at last week’s Council meeting, with precious little hard information.  Exceptions were the testimony of Karen Brown (access to the proposed Park), David Wall (Science) and Mike Lilliquist (costs of water treatment by the City of Bellingham).

If you are doing a fast forward of the 4 hour meeting, the testimony of these folks deserves special consideration.


Todd Granger

Sep 18, 2012

I doubt it’s has anything to do with 11th hour opposition, and that clouded title as related to a whole lot of reconveyed school trust lands, as written into the local Organic Act of 1853.

What was the North West Ordinance? Is 8th grade really that confusing?
Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged…

The private corporation, stealing public school lands, and the sell off by a School Board with tunnel vision?

You have to wonder how do these people get into office, as also defined in McCleary v. State, and Montana v. Montana, where the Kindergarden Class takes down the Montana Supreme Court, evidently education funding is more important that a park, for the Council ‘s Clown Show, starring Pete Kremen, who couldn’t make it in Radio, so he went into politics.

9-0, when your’s truly were left behind!

“In 2003, parents of Montana schoolchildren filed a federal suit, claiming that PPL’s facilities were on riverbeds that were state owned and part of Montana’s school trust lands.”




Wendy Harris

Sep 18, 2012

A 2009 report by DOE indicated that DNR forest practices are not in compliance with Clean Water Act requirements. It painted a pretty bleak picture of a dysfunctional agency that failed to engage in monitoring and compliance efforts, failed to rely upon best available science, and was likely to suffer from even greater budget cuts in the future. I am not sure why this never gets mentioned.


Todd Granger

Sep 18, 2012

Not in compliance?
Like the Queen’s newest gig, citing US v Nixon’s executive privilege now in the local High Court, not in compliance, what a concept and will Gerry Ford pardon our Queen too?

SECTION 5 GENERAL DUTIES OF GOVERNOR. The governor may require information in writing from the officers of the state upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices, and shall see that the laws are faithfully executed.

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